March 21, 2023

Rise in space tourism and rocket launches pose new threat to ozone layer warn researchers

3 min read

New Zealand. The ozone layer is on track to repair its damage within four decades, but the prospect of a large increase in rocket launches during this period could reverse this progress and return it to earlier levels. The ozone layer protects life on Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV).

Let us tell you that the damage in the ozone layer became a major international issue in the year 1985, when ‘ozone hole’ was discovered in the sky above the Antarctic region. However, due to global efforts, the ‘Montreal Protocol’ came into existence in the year 1987, which paved the way for a ban on a class of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs are used in refrigerators and aerosols.

How is ozone layer being damaged by rocket launching?
As a result, a global crisis was averted, but the global space industry is growing rapidly and the number of rockets launched annually is increasing. Gases and ‘particulates’ emitted from rocket launches can prolong the recovery period for ozone layer damage by reaching the atmosphere.

There is no regulation regarding emissions from rocket fuel. The launch industry relies on four major types of fuel to propel rockets, which are liquid kerosene, cryogenic, hypergolic and solid. The burning of these fuels means that the rocket produces other gases and particulates, including carbon dioxide, steam, black carbon, alumina, reactive chloride and nitrogen oxides, which are known to destroy the ozone layer.

This emission harms the ozone layer located in the ‘Stratosphere’, the upper surface of the atmosphere, because these emitted gases stay longer on the upper surface than on the lower surface. Another new fuel is methane, which is used in many rocket engines being developed by major launch companies. The by-products of methane have so far been underestimated.

Rocket emissions into the upper atmosphere can affect the ozone layer, but are not regulated. We say that this policy gap has to be bridged to ensure the sustainable development of the rocket launch industry and the protection of the ozone layer.

charismatic technique
Solid rocket fuel contains a chemical that damages the ozone layer by releasing chlorine into the upper atmosphere. CFC was banned because it contained chlorine. Fortunately, the number of launches so far has been so small that its effect on the ozone layer is negligible at present. However, the projection industry is set to expand significantly in the coming decades. Financial projections indicate that the global space industry could grow to US$3700 billion by 2040.

data collection and sharing
Several communities, including rocket launch service providers, environmental regulators, atmospheric research scientists and government agencies, need to move forward together internationally. There should be discussion on devising best practice operating methods for sustainable development, but there is no need to curb the growth of the space industry.

The most that every community can contribute is the first to collect data as well as share it. Similarly, sampling the amount of emissions in the atmosphere with researchers will help develop an understanding of the actual effect of emissions on the ozone layer.

Tags: Ozone, Rocket

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